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Faith McDonnellOctober 26, 2012
I was working out details to deliver an electric guitar to a friend and checking out the hundreds of amplifiers, guitar cases, gig bags, and other accessories available at a local music store when I received an oddly relevant Facebook post from my musician friend, Ruth Ann. She sent a link to an October 23 article in The Guardian about the jihadists that have invaded northern Mali. In a country famous for its own special contributions to West African culture, the Islamists have banned music.
The Guardian piece begins with a truck load of militant Islamists driving to Kidal, a northern Mali desert town that is the home of members of “Tinariwen,” a Grammy award-winning band, and arriving at the home of one of the musicians. Typical of Islamist bullies, they used threats and destruction to get their point across. They warned the musician’s sister that if he ever “shows his face” in town, they will “cut off all the fingers that he uses to play his guitar with.” Then they removed all of his guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones, and a drum kit from the house, doused them with gasoline, and burned them. The Guardian writer sums it up, “In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.”
Is this another repercussion of the "Arab Spring”? Is this takeover, in which three armed Islamic groups control the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao, yet another result of the emboldening of Islamists because they have been able to commandeer, bully, destroy, and murder with impunity in such places as Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? And in Benghazi?
Some Western foreign policy elites try to argue that the rise of Islamism is all about power and money and has nothing to do with religion. They say that the actions of Islamist jihadists are rooted in their victimization, poverty, and marginalization (nothing that a few billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars can’t assuage)! But even the Left-leaning Guardian reveals that “many of the mujahideen who have zoned in on the conflict from all over the Muslim world are fired by an unquestionable religious zeal.”
All western music was officially banned in a decree issued on August 22 “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” the article reports. The decree refers to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people, for whom music is like the air that they breathe, that “Qur'anic verses must take its place.”
“Shariah demands it," the decree states of the silencing of the music, and Sharia demands much more unpleasantness in Islamist-invaded northern Mali. The Guardian calls the implementation of Sharia there “horrifically literal” and “gratuitous.” But unless suffering from cognitive dissonance, one look at any region ruled by Sharia reveals its implementation to be horrifically literal. People are not figuratively lashed. Their actual hands are cut off. Real stones assault their bodies. And implementation of shariah is just that, implementation of shariah. It is not “gratuitous.” Former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against the Blind Sheik and eleven others convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, also took issue with the Guardian’s assumptions, explaining that “there’s nothing ‘gratuitous’ about applying (Shariah) as it is written.”
“What we wishfully call ‘radicalism’ is in fact the Islamic mainstream,” says McCarthy in another article.
The ban on music and the broader effects of Islamic jihad are devastating to Mali in many ways. The famous kora (a harp/lute like instrument made from a calabash) player, Toumani Diabate, explains that the material well-being of Mali springs from music. “Culture is our petrol,” he says. “Music is our mineral wealth. There isn't a single major music prize in the world today that hasn't been won by a Malian artist.”
Even more, though, than the financial blessing that talented, creative music and musicians have provided for Mali, is that music forms the identity of Malians. The Islamists are trying to erase the ethnicity and culture of the various people groups of Mali. Another famous West African musician, Cheich Tidiane Seck, says that “music regulates the life of every Malian . . . From the cradle to the grave.” And describing the situation now under the Islamic invaders, one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says in the Guardian article: "There's a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody's under this kind of spell. It's strange."
There is a beautiful defiance rising against the Islamists. Manny Ansar is the director of a musical festival that has taken place in the desert near Timbuktu and Kidal every year. Now, La Maison, the hotel where Bono stayed when he attended the most recent festival this past January, is the headquarters of the Islamic tribunal. But Ansar is going to take the now-banned festival global and sponsor a Festival in the Desert in Exile in Europe, the Middle East, the U.S., and elsewhere. He says that it is his “way of fighting back."
Ansar is not alone. Even Malian rappers are denouncing Islamism and military rule. Malian rapper Amkoullel declares, “I don’t give a **** what they say!” Amkoullel continues, "We won't let them get away with it. We don't need them to teach us how to be Muslims. We're a secular tolerant country, where everyone declares their religion according to their feeling. And in any case, they know that a Mali without music is an impossibility." Not content with words, Amkoullel has organized a coalition of rappers, activists, and other friends of freedom called Plus Jamais Ça to pressure the international community to counter the Islamist takeover. According to the Guardian, he has received three death threats. And another award-winning Malian musician, Rokia Traore, says that although she is a Muslim, “Shariah is not my thing.” She says that if she could not go on stage and perform, she would cease to exist, and that without music, Mali will cease to exist.”
Mali’s musicians and other freedom-lovers – mostly Muslims – are fighting against the implementation of shariah in their country. They see shariah for what it is – a hegemony that is crushing the life and erasing the cultural identity of this West African nation. And that is exactly the purpose for which it was intended. Please pray for the defeat of the Islamist radicals in Mali, and show your solidarity with its musicians by sharing this video of kora player Toumani Diabate and late Ali Farka Toure, and explaining how Islamists in northern Mali have stopped the music.
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